So, Your Significant Other is a Survivor

By Emilie Trepanier

Disclaimer: Every survivor’s story is different. Always keep that in mind while looking for advice on this subject.

You had the talk with your significant other. They let you know about their past, their “baggage,” what their future may look like, and how they hope you fit in. You are what is known as a second-hand survivor.

Right off the bat, you should know you’re incredible! Love doesn’t have to be hard, but trauma can make it seem that way. Remember that at the end of the day, people need to be validated and loved, you included.

People go through all sorts of traumas, even vicarious trauma, and that’s why I advocate for therapy for everyone. You may think “hey, I have to be the strong one here. I can’t be broken.” The issue with this logic is that finding out your loved one faced something traumatic is heartbreaking. It’s already happened, and anyone with a soul is going to feel the repercussions of this tragedy. You may not think you need it now, but the fact of the matter is; you probably will.

When I first shared my story, my spouse didn’t realize I will probably have triggers for the rest of my life. While they vary in intensity, one of the hardest things I had to do in my relationship was teach my spouse how to approach me during episodes following a trigger. Yes, communication is key, but, that goes both ways. It starts getting tricky when what you communicate what is triggering.

I know, I know. That seems unfair. And you know what? It’s totally is! This is another reason why you deserve an ear to listen to you until your partner is prepared to hear your feelings in a way that won’t trigger them. Maybe you’re feeling “Wow, I’m trying everything, and I feel like I just can’t win. I wish they could heal from this!” You are not a terrible person for feeling that way – believe me, we feel that way too. Hearing it from a significant other, though, may make us burrow deeper into our shells, pretend all is A-Okay, and cause the healing process for both parties to regress. If there is a family member or a friend who your partner has okayed for you to share their story, seek that person out. You deserve that.

At the beginning of my first year of marriage, I found a beautiful letter, addressed to my husband.

The letter outlined how to best approach a wife with major depressive disorder. It turned out, my husband researched the topic and wrote the letter to him, from him. He made two copies–one to keep with him at work, the other to keep at home. I was touched that he put so much thought into how he could make me happy. I think writing a letter to yourself like this could really help you out; however, include some coping skills for yourself in it, as well. Then, ask your partner if they feel comfortable writing one for you, too.

As time went on, I realized some of the coping mechanism he began using caused him to see me as nothing but my past traumas. He became a knight in shining armor; a knight saving me from my independence and preventing me from feeling normal. While I knew from the beginning that he didn’t quite understand the gravity of my “baggage,” it was clear he was experiencing the second-hand trauma he didn’t think would sneak up on him.

We get it. You want to be strong for the person you love, you want to hold them during episodes and triggers. I want to let you in on something though–typically, a survivor of trauma take fragility and turns it into strength. You don’t need to feel guilty for hurting; if we are at the point where we are functioning on our own, we can hold you through your tears. We are pretty dang strong if you ask me.

What we really need from you, is for you to know how much you matter to us. We want you to feel whole, too.

Knowing about the hardships survivors face can help us feel understood, but we are more than our traumas.

As I said before, loving someone with a traumatic history is a journey for both parties. Seeing your partner as either a fragile victim or a fearless warrior and nothing else may be a common experience. However, more than anything, we just want to be seen as people.

When I walk into a room, I don’t want my personal scars and trials to be what’s most prominent. If they’re seen, I don’t mind. If they’re in the mix of everything else, that’s exactly how it should look. Your partner is everything they were before that horrible time in their life, and everything after.  

Despite my greatest hardships, I’m still me. A person who likes writing, listening to musicals, meeting new people and playing with cats at the shelter. I’m still a person, who can go days without thinking about my assault. I have lead a super ordinary life since then.

You can hurt, too. Some things aren’t meant to be fixed; they’re meant to be carried. Partners carry each other.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.

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